We “girl moms” all share one very passionate goal-raising strong, independent and self-confident daughters. We want them to grow up knowing that they can be and do anything they want, even if society tells them otherwise. In fact, especially if society tells them otherwise! So, with that in mind, let’s talk about some secrets to raising independent and self-confident daughters that grow into strong women who know how to stand up for themselves.
7 Secrets to Raising Independent and Self-Confident Daughters
Amy Schumer said something that really resonates with me. She said, “I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will.” It’s a message we need to share with our daughters- no one else gets to write their story. Not society, not their friends, not their significant other. Not even us. We do not write our children’s stories. We merely give them the tools necessary to write their own. That’s important to remember for the first tip. Let’s take a look and you’ll see what I mean.
1. Let them write their own story, even if it’s a tale of pink-loving princesses
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I swore that I would never raise her surrounded by princesses, Barbies, and filly pink stuff. It bothered me that some “girl moms” focused on being cute, pretty, and princess-like. That wasn’t going to be me. No way, no how! I thought, “My daughter doesn’t need me to raise her thinking looks should determine how to treat people or that Barbie represents the ‘ideal’ body image.” I certainly wouldn’t be taking her to the nail salon to get “all pretty” the way some other moms did! Nope. Not me!
Then my daughter became a toddler. A princess-loving, pink-adoring toddler who wanted to play with pretend makeup, Barbies, and everything else I swore she’d never play with.” I even take her to get her nails done sometimes, and she absolutely loves it. At the same time, though, I remind her that she’s more than just that. Long story short, I’m doing all the things I swore I’d never do, and that’s okay! I’m letting her lead the way and write her own story. Maybe it’s not the tale I originally imagined, but then again, all the best stories have a few twists!
I think that we can become so hyperfocused on making sure that our daughters don’t feel like they have to love all things pink and pretty that we forget that it’s okay if they do happen to love those things. The point is, let your daughter decide what she enjoys, then support her in that, even if it’s not what you would have chosen for her.
2. Remove the words “that’s for boys” from your vocabulary
Did you know that up until the mid-20th century, toys weren’t marketed to one gender or another, according to Megan Maas for the University of Michigan? Maas writes, “By the 1940s, manufacturers quickly caught on to the idea that wealthier families would buy an entire new set of clothing, toys and other gadgets if the products were marketed differently for both genders. And so the idea of pink for girls and blue for boys was born.”
Most of us were raised well after the 1940s. Our society taught us that boys play with cars and girls with dolls. So we have to work a little harder to overcome decades of conditioning. If we want to raise independent and self-confident daughters, we have to start by teaching them that there’s no such thing as “just for boys.”
I want my daughter to know that she can be a princess AND an architect. She can dress up her Barbies one minute and build impressive LEGO structures the next. Go to ballet class on Tuesday and soccer practice on Wednesday. Play “tea party” at noon and stomp in mud puddles at 1. If we remove words like “just for boys” now, hopefully, our granddaughters will never know a world where cars and Legos are kept separate from dolls and pink castles.
3. Teach her the value of inner beauty
Despite all the advances in women’s rights (and all the claims to the contrary), society still puts a lot of value on outer looks. Just look at your favorite movies, TV shows, or even your Instagram feed for proof. See who gets the starring versus supporting role and which photos have the most likes, then tell me that we don’t focus on outer beauty anymore.
Again, if we want to change the world for our daughters and granddaughters, we have to put more focus on inner beauty. Tell your daughter that she’s beautiful because she makes you laugh, not just because she has a pretty smile. Remind her that her best feature is her wonderful heart, not her long hair. Even when you talk about celebrities, discuss the good they do, not how good they look.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t ever compliment your daughter’s outer beauty. As with all things, you need to find a balance. If your daughter gets all dressed up for her prom and asks how she looks, just tell her that she looks beautiful. Turning it into a lesson about fighting back against society’s standards of beauty can be just as damaging to her confidence.
4. Teach her how to advocate for herself
The hardest part of raising independent and self-confident daughters is knowing when to take a step back and let them fight their own battles. It’s hard when your daughter comes to you and tells you that her former best friend is telling everyone she has “cooties,” or her math teacher says that boys are just plain better at fractions than girls. There’s a reason they call us “mama bears” when our kids are being treated unjustly!
However, if we want them to stand up for themselves as adults, we have to give them the chance to do it as children. Rather than call up former BFF’s mom, ask your daughter how SHE wants to handle it. Instead of ripping into her math teacher (who definitely deserves it), give her the tools to prove him wrong herself. Let her know that she has every right to stand up for herself and that no one can make her feel inferior without her consent (as Eleanor Roosevelt said).
5. Let her know it’s okay to ask for help
I know that this tip seems contradictory to the last one, but I promise, they really do go together. Part of being strong and independent is knowing when you need a little help. You know that old saying, “no man is an island,” right? Well, the same applies to us girls! We all need something at some point from someone else. Otherwise, we’d all be doctors, pilots, mechanics, master chefs, and everything else all at once, right?
So, while you’re teaching your daughter to stand up for herself, remind her that you’ll be there to support her if she needs it. While you’re teaching her to change a tire, remind her that there’s nothing wrong with calling AAA, either! It’s okay to be a therapist and need therapy. It’s fine to be a master chef and order takeout. Basically, it’s okay to be fierce and strong yet still need your mom sometimes.
6. Surround her with positive role models of BOTH genders
We’ve all heard that we need to surround our girls with powerful female role models if we want to raise strong and independent women. That’s absolutely true, no doubt. However, we also need them to see strong male role models. We need to encourage father/daughter bonds (or grandfathers, uncles, and so on) so they grow up seeing how women deserve to be treated. We need to show them strong men who stand beside strong women, whether it’s in Hollywood or Washington.
It’s too easy to villainize men and make them the enemy, but you’re not doing your daughter any favors by doing so. It’s also incredibly unfair to our sons. Equality, by its very definition, bars us from declaring the opposite sex our enemy. After all, very few would see their enemy as an equal. So, show your girls that there are just as many wonderful male role models as there are females and that it’s okay to look up to them, too.
7. Encourage her academically
Growing up, we were often taught that girls are better at English, history and other humanities while boys were better at math and science. As hard as we try to teach our daughters that they can do anything, recent studies show that girls still lack confidence in those subjects.
One study done in 2017 by Florida State University found that “Girls rate their math abilities lower than boys, even when there is no observable difference between the two.” In other words, our daughters aren’t actually performing worse than our sons in those subjects, they just think they will. So they don’t try as hard, which in turn leads to lower scores. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, basically.
Make sure that your daughter knows that despite years of misinformation, there is actually no scientific evidence that boys are better at math and science than girls. None. Nada. So, if she’s considering a STEM class but worried that being a girl will hold her back, encourage her to go for it and give it her all.
8. Teach her that her body is her own & that she has a right to say “no”
Part of raising strong, independent, and self-confident daughters is teaching them that they- and they alone- have full control over their own bodies. In an ideal world, no one would ever touch anyone else’s body without that person’s full consent. Things like assault and abuse wouldn’t exist.
Sadly, that’s not the world we live in. In fact, it’s only getting worse, especially over the last few years. We need to teach our kids- both our boys and our girls- that their body belongs to them. Part of that starts early by not forcing kids to give hugs against their will.
As they get older, when you have “the talk” with your daughter, reiterate that no one should ever, ever, ever force her to do something that she doesn’t want. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, what her date expects, or even what & how much she drinks (obviously, you want to teach her not to drink, too, but that should be part of a different discussion). She’s always allowed to say no.
Just as important, make sure she knows that she can come to you if someone doesn’t accept “no” for an answer and that you will not punish her for anything that she did prior to the assault. Too many of our teenage daughters are afraid to tell their parents about an assault because they’re afraid of repercussions. For example, a teen who snuck out to go to a party may be afraid to tell her parents that a boy at the party assaulted her because she doesn’t want to get in trouble for sneaking out.
9. Be the woman you want your daughter to become
I saved the most important secret for last. If you want your daughter to become a strong and independent woman, be one yourself. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never worked. Not in the entire history of the planet. The good news? It’s never too late to start writing a new story. So, while you’re teaching your daughter about strength, start finding it in yourself. When you tell her that she’s beautiful because she makes you laugh, remind yourself that you’re beautiful because you help others. In other words, turn all of these secrets around and apply them to yourself. 😊
I’ve never been prouder to be a woman. To raise my daughter in a world where we are recognized, where we can work, where we have a voice, can lead, and have an impact. I want to teach her that all her dreams and aspirations are within her reach. That she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. I will teach her how important it is to not only take care of herself but of her community as well. I want to raise a strong, independent, and self-confident daughter, just like the woman that raised me.